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Witness to the West:
Photography by Jay Dusard, Jody Forster and Adam Jahiel


Witness to the West: Photographs by Adam Jahiel, Jay Dusard, and Jody Forster

Dates: September 5th – November 4th, 2006

Reception: Saturday, September 9th,  7 - 10 p.m.

Location: Etherton Gallery
135 S. Sixth Avenue

Hours: 11 - 5 Tuesday through Saturday, 11 - 7 Thursday

Contact: Jerre Johnston 624-7370

Contents: The near mythical life and land of the Cowboy, are witnessed in this exhibition of black and white photography by Jay Dusard, Adam Jahiel, and Jody Forster.

Jay Dusard: Jay Dusard has been photographing the vast expanses of the American West for nearly forty years. Although raised in Illinois, he discovered the unique calling of the western landscape at an early age and has never gone back. Having traveled, lived, worked, observed, and loved this land so thoroughly, it could be said that Dusard is not only a deeply respected steward of this terrain, but has come to actually represent its rugged ideals.

Equal to his awe of these vast western expanses was Dusard’s immediate attraction to its lifestyle. After abandoning his degree in architecture in the late 1960’s, Dusard made what he refers to as the best deal he ever made, “cow punching on a ranch in Sonora for room, board, and seven dollars a day.” Since then he has been an authentic convert, and has made it his career’s work to document the near mythical life and land of the Cowboy, as beautifully evidenced in his acclaimed book, The North American Cowboy: A Portrait.

The work produced, and printed in this book, was the result of a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to Dusard in 1981. With this and his 8x10 camera, he began a 25,000 mile journey on horseback that took him from Alberta, Canada to Sonora, Mexico working on and photographing at over forty-five ranches. As John Nichols aptly states in the book’s introduction: “Jay’s portraits of North American cowpunchers make you pause a little, especially when you understand that this is contemporary stuff. Because at first these complex quiet faces …seem like old-fashioned, poignant souls resurrected from another century.”

A student of Frederick Sommer and Ansel Adams, Dusard, has long since established himself as a master technician and consummate image-maker, as well as skilled teacher in his own right. He has been described as a keen observer who listens to the light and land as one would listen to music. This deep affection and commitment is as apparent in the muscular grace of each lyrical landscape as it is in the timeless gazes, at once beautiful and serious, looking out from each cowboy portrait. Every image is a personal homage to what Dusard holds most dear, and is printed with a scientific precision that yields a poem “written” in a stunning tonal array.

His new works are large format (371/2" x 471/2"), pigmented, archival ink jet prints of his earlier portraits of people who work the western terrain. With this new process, Dusard reinterprets the negative recalling Ansel Adams’ concept of previsualization, a mental exercise in which the photographer imagines the subject in terms of a value scale (the black, white, and range of grays desired in the final print). Adams repeats of the same subjects were profoundly different from each other due to the precision of his sensibility, not artistic interpretation. His motivation for retelling had to do with sensation –a visual understanding of the specific quality of the light that fell on a specific place at a specific moment –the insubstantial image, as transient as the light that continually redefines our perception of what is. Dusard’s enlarged pigment prints embody a kind of post-visualization of the finished print based on the measured light values discovered in his earlier work.

Dusard’s photographs have been exhibited worldwide and are in numerous public and private collections. He received the 1988 Four Corners Book Award for Non-Fiction, and was nominated in 1992 for the Kodak World Image Award for Fine Art Photography. A recent documentary, produced by Michael Markee and entitled, Keeping the West Western illustrates Dusard’s career and artistry. Dusard lives in Douglas, Arizona where, when not working, he punches cows and plays the jazz coronet.

Adam Jahiel: Adam Jahiel’s professional career is as diverse as it is distinguished.  Working with photographer Douglas Kirkland he traveled the globe shooting fashion, glamour, and parties for the very rich. Photographer for the Titanic expedition in 1987, he also taught with the Brooks Institute’s Semester at Sea program which took him to Turkey, Malaysia, China, Japan, and India. But it was on his next assignments in the States that Jahiel’s artistic passions were permanently altered. Inspired by the stark beauty of a California ranch cook house, Jahiel headed to Wyoming where he worked photographing the 50th anniversary of Wyoming’s Padlock Ranch.  By the time he had finished, he knew his heart belonged to the life of the west.

Jahiel has since spent several months of the last five years returning to the same remote ranches in the Great Basin documenting the lyrical, legendary, and often backbreaking scenes that are the lives of the now nearly extinct American cowboy.  As stated by Photo Insider, “Jahiel has unwittingly become America’s finest documentarian of the disappearing cowboy.” 

As this body of work is dedicated to the cowboy life, so it is to the life of the horse, as they are inextricable, their relationship built from mutual respect, admiration, and necessity.  Beneath enormous skies and endless horizons, the viewer becomes a silent witness to a world of legends. As the cowboy and horse rise, work and eat dinner together we are instantly present.  Whether racing along a remote creek, or surrounded by a haze of dust and intent, the vivid atmosphere of each scene is fragrant, and equally matched by the kinetic and wild allure of these working horses. This selection of impeccably printed platinum palladium prints is stunning evidence of the contemporary myth regarding man and horse.

Adam Jahiel currently lives in Wyoming where he continues to chronicle the legacy of the western cowboy in between his commercial projects.  “The Last Cowboy” which opened at the Museum of the American Cowboy has traveled non-stop since the exhibit, and is expected to be published as a monograph later this year.

Jody Forster: From the Himalayas to the Grand Canyon Forster’s imagery captures that atmospheric sense of place that occurs where the sky meets the land. The relationships between light and shadow, land and cloud formations, mountains, rock formations and plant life that recall the grandeur of nineteenth-century American painting.

A student of the traditional straight-print school of photography, Forster uses a cumbersome 8 x10 view camera yielding photographs of great clarity and tonal range that are reminiscent of historic western American landscape. For over two decades he has captured the glory of the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. “In all my travels,” says Forster, who lives in New Mexico, “I’ve experienced the greatest cloud formations in the Sonoran Desert. The combination of these clouds and complex geology of the Sonoran make for tremendous vistas and that’s my favorite subject, the Grand Scene.  

While Forster has worked extensively in the deserts and canyons of the great American Southwest he has also traveled and photographed extensively on three continents, North America, Asia, and Antarctica. In 1984 he was team photographer for the American Himalchuli Expedition and spent seven months trekking and photographing in the Himalayas of Nepal. In 1992 and 1995 he was selected by the National Science Foundation to participate in the United States Antarctic Artist and Writers Program. Forster’s work is in numerous museums, corporate and private collections.


That cowpunchers have allowed me into their world has been the great blessing of my life. They have welcomed me in to make their portraits, but more miraculously, they have indulged this pilgrim’s desire and efforts to participate in what they do. I was riding horses and following cows before I got serious about photography, so working horseback with the men and women on the outfits most likely gave me some credibility.

Back in the late 1800s, Laton Alton Huffman would leave his Miles City, Montana, studio to follow the big open range cattle roundups. Working with a homemade camera that used 6 1/2” x 8 1/2” dry plates, Huffman achieved a remarkable document of a remarkable place and time. Nearly a century later, when the Guggenheim Foundation generously started me on the cowboy trail, I elected to arm myself with my 8” x 10” camera, the instrument that I knew best.

These monumental-size prints have finally made me stop wondering why I went to the trouble to make such large negatives. They represent a collaboration and partnership with Mark McDowell, director of Cattle Track Gallery, Scottsdale, and digital maestro Carlos Mandelaveitia of Studio Vasco, Scottsdale.

-Jay Dusard    



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